The Joker controversy explained: Everything that’s happened so far

Caption: JOAQUIN PHOENIX as Joker in Warner Bros. Pictures, Village Roadshow Pictures and BRON Creative’s “JOKER,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release.
Caption: JOAQUIN PHOENIX as Joker in Warner Bros. Pictures, Village Roadshow Pictures and BRON Creative’s “JOKER,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release. /

The Joker movie has been riddled with controversy since its inception but has received more attention as it neared closer to its wide release. Here’s what’s made this movie so controversial.

Warner Bros. and DC have had a fairly smooth run when it come to its movies. While movies like Justice League or Suicide Squad have received their fair amount of flack, nothing for them has remotely come close to the type of attention that Joker has received — though, it’s easy to see why as Warner Bros. could only wish “CGI no-stache Superman” was the worst criticism a DC movie has ever received.

The whole Joker controversy is pretty deeply rooted, some of it going back as far as the initial pitch of the movie itself. But as the movie drew closer to its wide release, the fire really picked up. Read on to see what events thrust the Joker movie into the spotlight and how it’s trudged along since.

“Incels” spark new fears

An odd combination of the movie’s plot and a community known as incels rocked the preception of the Joker movie. The plot is an origin story about the Joker before he became “The Joker.” Known as Arthur Fleck, Joaquin Phoenix’s character is plagued by misunderstanding and hardship. But instead of handling that hardship appropriately, he eventually copes by lashing out in violence — something we’ve seen in headlines in the real world over and over again when it comes to mass shootings and the shooters.

Online, it was perceived that the incel (involuntary celibate) community latched on to the Arthur Fleck’s character, seeing themselves in the tragic traits of the classic villain. (Though some will argue that not all idolize the character for his violence, but rather empathize with him for being treated similarly.)

For some, that drew too much of a comparison to the Aurora, Colorado, mass shooter from 2012. The shooter, who terrorized a showing of The Dark Knight Rises, was said to have found the Joker as inspiration — with ABC reporting that the FBI found links to online threats related to Joker that mentioned the 2012 tragedy.

FBI, police step up

The same ABC report, which was able to obtain a bulletin from the FBI, found that the bureau was keeping a close eye on monitoring online threats. So far, the report says the threats have lacked specificity in nature.

Meanwhile, local police forces are taking their own action. NBC News reports that the NYPD will increase its police presence during the movie’s premiere. And the LAPD has asked citizens to stay vigilant in the wake of the movie’s premiere.

Aurora families urge action

In late September, family members and friends of victims in the Aurora shooting penned a letter directly to Warner Bros. The letter stood supportive of the film, but CNN reports one big urge of the letter, saying:

"Specifically, the letter calls on the studio to end political contributions to candidates who take money from the NRA and vote against gun reform, actively lobby for gun reform and make contributions to groups that support survivors and aim to reduce gun violence."

Warner Bros. responds

Shortly after the letter drew the attention of the public, Warner Bros. responded, positively assuring that they intended to cause no harm with the movie. Warner Bros., in turn, said that they have been dedicated to supporting victims of violence as well as taking a stand on gun legislation, writing:

"Our company has a long history of donating to victims of violence, including Aurora, and in recent weeks, our parent company joined other business leaders to call on policymakers to enact bi-partisan legislation to address this epidemic.At the same time, Warner Bros. believes that one of the functions of storytelling is to provoke difficult conversations around complex issues. Make no mistake: neither the fictional character Joker, nor the film, is an endorsement of real-world violence of any kind. It is not the intention of the film, the filmmakers or the studio to hold this character up as a hero."

LA premiere gets no press

With things really building up — and the movie up until that point only having been previewed on the film festival circuit — Warner Bros. made a huge decision for its LA premiere for Sept. 27. Along the red carpet, there would be no press present, meaning there would be no interviews with the cast and crew for that premiere. (Only photographers were allowed to capture the red carpet event.)

Movie theaters take a side

With the movie officially out as of Oct. 4, some theaters have taken a stance on how they will premiere the movie. Alamo Drafthouse released a warning to theater-goers, urging that the violent movie is not the typical comic book story that children would enjoy.

Alamo has pledged to increase security for the movie’s opening, and Regal Cinemas said they would take appropriate security actions as needed. Additionally, Landmark Theatres banned both guests and employees from wearing costumes, face paint and masks ahead of the Joker’s premiere.

Review: Joker is a gritty, dark origin story. light. Related Story

Joker has now landed in theaters, and it’s already made $13.3 million dollars on opening night. It’s on track to beat the October record, currently held by 2018’s Venom.